Childcare: the European experience

Seventy per cent of under-threes in Spain are not in child care


The average cost of a part-time nursery place for a child under two in Britain is £122 (or £4.88 – €5.41 – an hour) an increase of 7 per cent since last year, according to the Family and Child Care Trust.

But prices vary significantly across the country, with a part-time nursery place in inner London costing an average of £184 per week, compared to £102 in the north west.

These prices don’t tell the full story, however, because most parents are entitled to some help with childcare costs through a patchwork of seven different types of support.

The government started rolling out a new tax-free childcare scheme last year, which pays £2 for every £8 parents pay for childcare, up to a maximum of £2,000 per child per year. It has been made available first to working parents with young children before becoming available to those with children under 12.

Parents of three- and four-year-olds are entitled to 15 hours of free childcare each week, and since last year, households where both parents are working more than 16 hours a week can claim an extra 15 hours of free childcare each week.

Families on low incomes can claim back up to 85 per cent of their childcare costs, although advocacy groups claim the system means that some lower income families risk being worse off if they work more hours.

As families become eligible for more free childcare under the government's latest initiatives, some local councils fear they will not be able to provide enough places to keep up with demand. – Denis Staunton, London Editor


The French think-tank

Centre d’observation de la société

reported in March 2018 that 44 per cent of young children are cared for “informally,” most often by their mothers, but also by grandparents, other relatives or friends.

The second largest number, 33 per cent, are cared for by a childminder, while only 18 per cent find places in a creche.

“The lack of childcare solutions means that a portion of women still do not have access to the labour market, or must work part time,” the report says. It cites 2014 figures from the statistical institute Insee, which show that 43 per cent of mothers of three children or more do not work outside the home, compared to 82 per cent of women living with a partner and one child only.

“Since childcare in a creche is the least expensive (other than family), the shortage of places particularly penalises parents with the least money,” the study concludes.

A different study, published by the government directorate for research, studies, evaluation and statistics (Drees) in 2015, concluded that the average cost of care for a child under the age of three is €187 per month. (Almost all French children between the ages of three and five are in school).

That figure reflects direct state aid and tax breaks for childcare which reduce the final bill by 55 per cent. Otherwise, Drees reported, the actual cost would be €411 for 137 hours of childcare per month.

Aid for childcare is means-tested. The cost for the poorest households of placing a child in a creche is one third the price for an affluent family.

According to the Drees report, childcare consumes 6 per cent of pre-tax income when a child is cared for by a minder, 4 per cent in a creche. – Lara Marlowe in Paris


A shortage of public childcare centres in Spain, particularly in bigger cities, means that private centres, which cost more, are much more commonly used. Seventy per cent of under-threes are not in child care, and of those that are, only 15 per cent attend public centres, according to the National Statistics Institute (INE).

The cost of private care depends on the area in Spain, with centres in Barcelona charging up to €200 per month more than those in the south of the country. The childcare website Crecerfeliz estimates the average cost for full-day care in a private centre is €310 per month.

The average male income in Spain is €25,924, and the average female income €20,131, according to INE. On the basis of those figures, private care for one child would consume just over 8 per cent of a couple’s combined income, while a single mother would spend 18 per cent of her income.

However, for a single parent earning the official minimum wage for 2018 of €736 per month, private child care would rise to 42 per cent of income.

In some parts of the country the local government offers grants to parents, depending on how much they earn. In Madrid, the maximum offered is about €200 per month.

However, a Eurostat study found Spain is the country that offers the least financial support to parents in the EU and that financial concerns were the main reason why Spanish parents did not make more use of childcare. – Guy Hedgecoe in Madrid